Monday, January 26, 2015

Screen Door Porch - Modern Settler

New York. LA. Chicago. Austin. Nashville. Seattle. Jackson Hole. Wait. What? WYOMING???

Screen Door Porch (web | Twitter) will release their third album - Modern Settler on February 10th.

Seadar Rose and Aaron Davis front the band musically, lyrically and vocally. Though now based in Wyoming, the duo have southern roots in North Carolina and Kentucky. That background seems to have influenced the song's musical arrangements - though most of the lyrics are heavily rooted in the great expanse of the western states. For Modern Settler, the band's grooving rhythm sound is rounded out with Tom Davidson on bass and Andy Peterson on drums.

The album is a fun listen from beginning to end. A few of the ten tracks are straight-forward musically with thought-provoking, poetic lyrics. Others have a very full, rich sound resulting from complex yet enjoyable musical arrangements including slide guitar, an organ, horns, interesting percussion additions, and solid-yet-jazzlike drumming.

Collectively, the sound and vocals remind me a bit of Donna The Buffalo ... and The Reivers from the late 1980s ... and Natalie Merchant from 10,000 Maniacs.

The album's opener Wild Ways grabs you from the jump. While easy to simply enjoy its wonderful music fullness, additional absorption of the lyrics causes you to stop and think "whoa, now this is pretty dark."

Shouldn't be the one to guide you outta the fray
Absurd enough there’s a middle man leading the way 
Your parents withdrew when it all hit hit the fan
A stage dive met with nowhere else to land

The Canyon was the first song written by Rose and Davis for the album.The groove to it is immediately addictive along with the organ, guitar riffs and drumming. But the musical aspects are trumped in my opinion by Rose's sultry vocals. Rose and Davis were inspired to write the song by the magnificence of  a canyon noted from atop Dead Indian Pass on the Wyoming-Montana border.


1937 starts the second half of the album and opens with a slide guitar riff and a hint of a cool, eerie and evil echo. Davis was led to write the song based on some of the early American settlers in Wyoming who were granted a bit of land and 600 bucks cash as US railroads began to cross the expanding nation. (As an aside, be sure to read the late Stephen Ambrose's great book Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869.)

Rose returns to lead vocals on her song Little Bit More. The track is arguably one of the richest ones musically with horns, keys, slide guitar, and a solid rhythm on toms but no snare.

The band seems to have had a genuinely fun time recording Wish I Was a Teton. You can't help but smile as you listen to it.

Wish I was a Teton, maybe the middle 
Or I could be Buck and still be tough
Standing tall through hard times and all

But as it stands I’m just a little hill
Starved for attention because I never get mentioned
I’d even settle to be called a butte

The album closes with She Speaks Through Me. Though its lyrics are sparse, the song seems to be arranged as somewhat of an encore. Davis opens with a Roy Orbison'ish vibrato, and Rose soon joins him with wonderful harmony vocals. Many of the instruments present in various songs make a return appearance on She Speaks. Also, Peterson's drumming is more straight-forward rock rather some of the more subdued fills present in earlier songs.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Craig Market and Thomm Jutz - The complexities of simplicity

Six months ago, I'd never heard of Thomm Jutz (web). Shamefully perhaps - but the truth.

Though he has been around Nashville with really no effort to hide, I didn't find Jutz until learning he co-produced Mac Wiseman's latest collection of songs with Peter Cooper.

In December, I saw Jutz' tremendous work as the lead organizer and song writer for The 1861 Project whose latest album was a collection of songs written about The Battle of Franklin during the Civil War.

Credit: Ken Gray Images
Within the last month, I learned Jutz teamed with Nashville-based songwriter Craig Market to record Nowhere to Hide, scheduled for release on January 29.

The album is a cool recording - two guys with guitars singing songs without being overly produced. No bass. No drums. No keys. No horns. Simplicity seems to be the theme. They wrote the songs over a period of three years. When it came time to record them, they proceeded without a crunch to hurry through the effort. They recorded one song per day until they were done.

The album's timing release in the winter is appropriate. The album cover is dark and a bit cold - as is the lyrical content of several of the songs. The guitar work between the two is exceptional, but the lyrics require a deliberate listen. The Civil War, World War II, the funeral of a West Virginia miner, transparency as a musician and songwriter, etc. - not exactly themes one generally streams poolside through their iPhone and Bluetooth speakers.

Market's vocal range and style remind me a bit of Randy Travis and James Taylor (tuned down an octave). Though the two collaborated on the songwriting, Market sings lead vocals on 10 of the 12 tracks. Jutz' singing is featured on one song, and the two sing as a true duet on WV Miner, about the passing of one of those who work underneath the mountain.

In the middle of some tough songs thematically is one of simplicity - That's Enough. A house. A companion. A stove with some firewood. Safety, security. No need to invest wasted efforts chasing ghosts in search of something grander. What more does one need truthly? Well, some beer and a trusty dog, but maybe that's just me...

The album's final two songs reveal a bit more of the two as individual artists and individuals - Nowhere To Hide and You Take Me As I Am. Preceding them, however, is the song of the twelve that perhaps stills me the most: Thunder. Jutz sang it on the second volume of The 1861 Project. On Nowhere To Hide, Market's deeper and darker voice is featured.

I'll be the first to admit my ignorance of the details of the Civil War. I've got the big picture - the North defeated the South, and I can rattle off the names of many of the battlefields. Gaining a deeper knowledge about the details - particularly the personal and gruesome details - of the battles, the young soldiers, the townsfolk, the horrifying injuries and head-shaking medical care, etc. has not been front and center for me. One of the themes Jutz explored with 1861 is the role of Irish immigrants. Many fled for the US in hopes of finding a better life. Instead, many found themselves smack dab in the middle of it's war between the states. Some served, some fought - some for the North, some for the South. Many lived, many died - and were buried in shallow, dirt graves. And some - immigrants or US lifers - were faced with having to dig those graves.

Plowing furrows in the Irish soil
Now I'm digging shallow graves for Irish boys

My soul is weary, and my back is sore
Today alone I buried twenty-four

Two feet deep and lined up in a row
Fishermen and farmers I suppose

Will anyone remember through the years?
The flowers once again are blooming here

A contemplative album to be sure - one whose guitar work will be easily absorbed but whose lyrics will require intentional listening.